I adore Justin Abdelkader. I think he works his butt off, and is one of the guys that has shown up night in and night out. Much has been made of his bump up to interim second line center, and - with the multitude of injuries this team has incurred - Uncle Mike had little choice. He made sure to remind us all that he's running short on centers.
I'm a numbers guy. I like to read stats and try to analyze what they could mean, and very often the answer is "nothing." But this Gator move didn't sit well, and not because I don't think he deserves a shot. Like I mentioned above, he's one of the guys that truly works his behind off for his teammates. But the numbers don't quite add up, and here's why...
The Red Wings pride themselves on being an effective puck-possession team, and that all starts in the faceoff circle. Six players have taken 150 or more faceoffs this season: Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Valtteri Filppula, and Kris Draper.
Prior to the Blues game, Abdelkader had the lowest faceoff percentage of any of these players, somewhere in the neighborhood of 42%. The rest were all above 50.
After one period, it was clear the faceoffs weren't going the Red Wings' way. Normally a very good team on the draw, Detroit found itself on the short end of a 20-6 faceoff differential, including 0-for-6 from #8. Now, one period does not a good center make, but not only was Abdelkader playing more minutes in his new role, he was also taking more draws, and against better artists. He finished the game 2-for-9, a woeful 22%. All in all, all the Red Wings had an off-night at the dot (except Darren Helm, who was 9-for-13), and Abdelkader's percentage has dropped to 41.8.
I know it's not Abdelkader's ideal spot in the lineup, and if all things went as planned, he was to spend the whole year in Grand Rapids. But I think it's clear he belongs in Detroit - he's a heck of a worker, and isn't afraid to head into the corners and along the boards. But to say he's the weakest draw-taker on the current squad would be an understatement.
Why not try Darren Helm in that spot? Perhaps its because Helm is penciled into that third/fourth line role, and that's where he should stay. Abdelkader is essentially a fill-in on this team, a place-holder of sorts. But if Babcock wants to possess the puck for every second that the top two lines are on the ice, he might want to consider someone else taking the draws.